Community Connections

Gila Valley Arts Council

Gila Valley Arts Council has brought the performing arts to Graham and Greenlee Counties for more than 30 years. Their priority is education. Through their school residency program, the Council is able to capture the interest and celebrate the talents of students in every form of performance: instrumental, vocal music, dance, and stage. They make a difference in the lives of students on various levels, raising appreciation of the performing arts through performances for students, improving skills by offering workshops to students who have chosen the arts as electives, and coaching young performers through master classes to improve their craft.

The Safford Middle School students thoroughly enjoyed the Everything Fitz workshop. As their teacher, I was very impressed with the educational components of the workshop. My students learned about the main pillars of fiddling and folk music—the reel, jig, and waltz. The musicians answered all my students’ questions in a very engaging way.

- Chip Cheney

Strings Instructor for Safford Middle School

During 2016-2017, the Gila Valley Arts Council reached 3,517 students from 19 schools through its residency program that featured Angela Cheng and Alvin Chow, duo pianists; Ocotillo Winds, a woodwind ensemble; James Tormé, singer; and Everything Fitz, musicians and dancers. The Council is the only agency in the Gila Valley offering performing arts opportunities to all schools in both counties. The Arizona Community Foundation of the Gila Valley has supported their work through grant funding and its endowment program.

Safford High School Scholarship Foundation Fund

The Safford High School Scholarship Foundation Fund has a meaningful impact for students in Safford, Arizona. Since the fund was established, $616,000 has been awarded in scholarships to students who need assistance in furthering their education beyond high school. As is the case for many students in rural Arizona, students in Safford rely heavily on financial assistance to access higher education opportunities.

The fund had humble beginnings, dating back to 1986. At that time, John Bonefas, a Safford resident and community leader, started talking with other residents about the formation of a nonprofit benefiting the local high school. It took time to get going, but in 1998, John and twelve other individuals established the Safford High School Scholarship and Education Foundation. "Growing up on a small farm in Iowa along with eleven siblings meant there was little 'extra' cash available," said John. "However, we were fortunate in that we always had plenty of food on the table, most of it grown in a large garden or meat from the animals we raised. I realized others weren't so fortunate. From this, I cultivated a mindset that we need to reach out to assist others."

Around the same time, John's reputation as a community leader also led him to co-found and serve as the first advisory board chair for the Graham County Community Foundation, now known as the Arizona Community Foundation of the Gila Valley.

Following his community foundation involvement, John helped transition the Safford High School Scholarship Foundation Fund to ACF of the Gila Valley. Here, the fund benefits from professional investment management while building endowed capital for future generations of Safford students. John recognizes the fund will continue to evolve as community needs change, "In the past we offered scholarships to college-bound students but beginning with the class of 2020, we will also offer financial assistance to those seeking work-related careers that require additional training beyond a high school diploma."

Today, John is the remaining founder continuing to serve on the Safford High School Education Foundation board, leading the team of local alumni who are dedicated to serving the needs of current students.

To learn more about scholarship funds and opportunities, contact Regional Director Angie Laskarides at 520.439.0595.